Yes, John Bell Hood Was Much Maligned and Misunderstood

I just finished reading Stephen Hood’s book, John Bell Hood:  The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.

This book is an enjoyable read.  Stephen “Sam” Hood’s thesis is that historians have not treated General Hood well.  In some cases historians have made assertions about Hood that are not supported by any evidence.  In other cases they have mishandled evidence.  Finally, they have held Hood to a different, higher standard than standards to which they hold other generals.  Once these flawed interpretations enter the historiography, other historians merely repeat these errors by simply quoting the historians who created the flawed interpretations in the first place.  Chief among the anti-Hood cadre is Wiley Sword, whose assertions about Hood are the results of all of the above practices.

Hood makes his case well, and presents compelling evidence well grounded in primary sources.  I was skeptical when I first heard of the book, but I have to admit Sam has delivered.  General Hood makes a great case study in historical malpractice and the damage it can do to our understanding of the past.  It also makes a good study on how historians craft memory for good or bad.

In presenting his case, Sam tells us what these historians have written about Hood, and then he shows us the primary source evidence and identifies what the historians did wrong.  He’s very familiar with the scholarship about the General, including the latest books.

I highly recommend this book.  After reading it I have a much more sympathetic, and I believe more accurate, view of Hood’s generalship.  This is not to say he didn’t make mistakes.  But the majority of mistakes we commonly place at his feet have now been shown to be mere myth.

Many of us have read that the laudanum story about Hood was myth, and Sam addresses this as well.  I think this book will be very influential and will lead to reassessments of other figures.  Well done, Sam.  I highly recommend this book.

7 comments

  1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    So many books, so little time. I’m just now finishing the Russel book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. You’re welcome.

  2. Thanks for the review. I don’t know Hood as well as I oughter, and much of what I “know” is not very complimentary. I’ve wondered if this book really lives up to its billing. As Bob says, “so many books. . . .”

    1. You should see my “to read” pile, Andy. Talk about too many books and too little time. 🙂

      I was pleased that for me the book did live up to the billing. I was very impressed with the amount of primary sources he used to back up his position. Like you, I don’t know as much about the General as I should. I at least did read his memoirs, and I knew the laudenum assertions were a myth, but I also had the view of him as “Old Woodenhead.” This book, in my view, was really needed.

  3. Jerry Buzan · · Reply

    John Bell Hood has been my hero ever since I attended jr. high in a school named for him. Thank you Mr. Hood for brushing the dirt off the general.

  4. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

    Thank you for the re-direct over to this thread — once again, my search skills failed me 😦 A pleasant surprise is that it turned out to be a two-fer bonus on the review: I checked out Pat Young’s review, also. An interesting takeaway is that old Primary Source check-up: do they say what the author wants them to say? Myself, I have recently enjoyed such fact-checking, particularly when it comes to quotes about Grant. Anyhow, I appreciate the follow-up on the new JBH information, as you guys who can read a book a week help keep slowpokes like myself in the loop.

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